Early in the morning on March 3, Villarrica in Chile erupted, sending ash and lava flying some 3,300 feet up into the atmosphere.
The eruption caused nearly 4,000 people to flee the surrounding areas, including from the nearby tourist town of Pucón, though the BBC reports that residents mostly left "calmly." After about 20 minutes, the volcano piped back down, and the nearby towns seemed okay.
Here's a slightly grainy but thoroughly mesmerizing video of the eruption, put together by POVI, a group that monitors Villarrica. Things get good starting around the 1:30 mark:
Here's a close-up of the lava fountains, caught by Ariel Marinkovic for the AFP:
Some photographers even caught lightning accompanying the eruption — a phenomenon caused by static electricity in the ash clouds:
The lava then traveled down the slopes of the 9,380-foot high volcano, melting snow along the way and creating mudflows. Here's a shot of the flows on March 4:
Villarica is mostly dangerous because of mudflows
Villarica is one of Chile's most active volcanoes and, according to the Smithsonian's Global Volcanic Program, is one of three tall stratovolcanoes in a chain that runs perpendicular to the Andes mountain range, believed to be caused by a fracture in the Earth's crust.
Scientists have documented eruptions from Villarica dating back to 1558 — mostly moderate eruptions that only occasionally spew lava. The last major eruption, before this one, came in 1985, though there have been plenty of smaller eruptions since.
Those outbursts can be deadly. Because the volcano itself is covered by 15 square miles of glaciers, the lava that flows down the side and mixes with ice and snow to form lahars — a mudflow slurry that can move extremely quickly and destroy towns in their path. According to the Smithsonian, "lahars have damaged towns on Villarica's flanks." The BBC reports that more than 100 people are believed to have been killed by the volcano's mudflows in the past century.
Most of the time, though, the volcano is a popular destination for hikers, who climb the 9,380-foot high mountain during the summer months to peer at the lava lake in its crater. A few tour companies even let people bungee near it.
It's a beautiful sight — until it blows.